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Is breast really best? Breastfeeding vs. formula feeding

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Formula bottles

You may have heard “breast is best,” but is breast milk really that much more beneficial for your baby than formula?

“Most definitely!” says Carol Tognacci, formerly of Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies Coalition of Palm Beach County. “Breast milk has the perfect combination of proteins, fats, vitamins and carbohydrates your baby needs.”

This is especially true for the colostrum produced immediately after birth. Also called liquid gold for its deep yellow color, colostrum is rich in nutrients and antibodies to protect your baby from infections. Colostrum also helps your newborn’s digestive system to develop and function, according to the Office on Women’s Health at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Tognacci agrees. “What breast milk has over formula is something called leukocytes,” she says. “These are living cells that help fight infection. Breast milk contains components that send messages to the baby’s gut flora how to set up for the burning of fats and the metabolism of nutrients for life.”

Benefits for baby and mom

Aside from serving your baby’s immediate nutritional needs, the health benefits for you and your child are lifelong. Breastfed babies have a strengthened immune system, fewer allergies, fewer ear infections, less risk of sudden infant death syndrome, better body/mass index and less respiratory illness, according to the Office on Women’s Health.

And for mom? Not only does breastfeeding help stimulate the uterus to shrink to pre-pregnancy size, but nursing also burns about 600 calories a day, which enables you to lose baby weight faster. Also, breastfeeding leads to a lower risk of Type 2 diabetes, certain types of breast cancer and ovarian cancer.

But what if a medical issue, work schedule or lifestyle prevents breastfeeding? Take heart, experts say, and do the best you can, knowing whatever choice you make will be the best for your situation.

Keep in mind, advises Tognacci, that “breastfeeding is based on supply and demand, so if you are supplementing with formula, that drop in demand will signal to your body to produce less milk.”

Once a good latch has been established, you may introduce pacifiers, she says. But it’s prudent to wait at least a month so the baby doesn’t get confused. If your baby won’t latch, local organizations like the Breastfeeding Coalition of Palm Beach County can help.

Handling the critics

Once you have established a breastfeeding and/or formula feeding routine, it doesn’t mean the challenges will necessarily end there. While there are many resources to support new mothers, there may be critics for each decision you make. Some may even be in your own family.

So how should you respond to them?

“You can tell them that you have made your choice based on what would be best for you and your baby,” Tognacci says. “Tell them you appreciate their opinion, but you can make the best choices for your baby since you know your baby best. In fact, you will be making many decisions for your child in the coming years, and all any parent wants is what is best for their child.”

Formula as the backup

In some situations, formula feeding can save lives. According to the Office on Women’s Health:

  • Very rarely, babies are born unable to tolerate milk. These babies must be fed an infant formula that is hypoallergenic, dairy free or lactose free. A wide selection of specialty baby formulas on the market also include soy or hydrolyzed.

Your baby may need formula if you have a health condition or a work schedule not conducive to breastfeeding and you don’t have access to donor breast milk. Talk to your doctor before feeding your baby anything besides your breast milk. If you need help finding a doctor or insurance, or help paying for formula, you can call Healthy Mother, Healthy Babies of Palm Beach County. 

Even with the growing awareness of the benefits of breastfeeding, you may find it difficult to do it in public. Remember you are not doing anything inappropriate by feeding your baby. The Office on Women’s Health offers these tips for breastfeeding in public:

  • Wear clothes that allow easy access to your breasts, such as tops that pull up from the waist or button down.
  • Practice at home to ensure you’re only revealing as much as you’re comfortable with.
  • Breastfeed your baby before fussiness sets in so you have time to get to a comfortable place or position to feed.

Tips for saving money on formula

Just as you may do for groceries and baby supplies, shop around for the best deals on the formula you've chosen. Here are some tips from the experts at KidsHealth:

  • Take advantage of free samples and coupons you get in the mail the first few months after your baby is born. New moms often are placed on mailing lists for everything baby related, from children's book clubs to formula companies.
  • Ask if your baby’s child care has a coupon exchange program in which parents bring in their coupons and other moms and dads take what they need.
  • Sign up for online coupon clubs that allow you to print and save coupons for only the things you indicate you need.
  • Call Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies for help at 1-888-414-4642.


SOURCES:

• Carol Tognacci, former program manager, Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies Coalition of Palm Beach County 
Office on Women’s Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
KidsHealth.org
Breastfeeding Coalition of Palm Beach County

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